On a recent crisp spring day in Osh, I was milling about one of our distribution sites in the Alymbek-Datka neighborhood, chatting with program participants. Last June ethnic violence erupted in the city, causing the death of more than 400 people and the destruction and looting of more than 3,000 homes and countless businesses.
The crisis exacerbated an already precarious food security situation. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan has seen some tumultuous times — violent government overthrows, economic stagnation and rising food prices. These factors have contributed to high rates of child stunting and malnutrition, and the violent conflict last June only worsened the situation.
Mercy Corps responded quickly — immediately after the crisis subsided. Throughout the past year, we've provided more than 7,720 families (nearly 45,000 individuals) with cash assistance to purchase food.
Why cash? We believe that cash allows families the ability to make decisions about the types of food that their families need most. Program participants agree. They tell us that they are able to purchase more nutritious foods, such as meat, vegetables and fruit.
The additional cash has also allowed families to heat their homes in the winter, purchase warm clothing and pay for children’s school fees — all steps towards improving families’ overall well-being and food security. Small businesses selling food products also benefit from the cash distributions; these entrepreneurs provide a necessary service while earning income to support their families.
Nasiba, a community leader I spoke with at the distribution site in Alymbek-Datka, told me about how grateful her community members were for the cash assistance.
The orderly distribution took place on the grounds of her former home, which was burned down during the violence. While you could still see the charred remains of her former home, the colorful blankets she placed on make-shift benches for her fellow program participants was just a small detail that showed her care and her refusal to let last year’s events dampen her spirit.
While Kyrgyzstan still has many families in need, cash assistance to those affected by the June conflict has allowed many families to eat better and to make strides towards rebuilding.